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Sierra Club tries to drum up support to cut emissions from Springdale power plant

| Friday, April 3, 2015, 1:21 a.m.

The Sierra Club believes NRG's Cheswick Power Plant can cut more polluting emissions and wants residents to help achieve that.

Thursday night the club held a “public health community meeting” in Springdale — where the coal-fired electric generating plant is located.

About 25 residents turned out for the meeting to hear a panel of environmental and health activists discuss the plant and its emissions of fine particles or soot, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides, referred to as NOX.

Tom Schuster of the Sierra Club said the opportunity to cut emissions is this year through NRG's permit from the Allegheny County Health Department. He said every five years plants like the one in Springdale have to update their air quality permit, which sets the limits for emissions.

“This permit expires at the end of the year,” Schuster said. “We need to tighten the permit.”

He said the plant has a scrubber installed to reduce NOX and soot coming from the plant, but the company doesn't run it. He said the power plant exceeds permit limits for those pollutants.

Instead, he said the company apparently has found it cheaper to buy pollution credits to gain relief from its permit obligation and avoid violations.

The plant does use a scrubber for SO2 emissions, and it is within its permit limits for that pollutant, Schuster said.

However, he said the level of that material has almost tripled from 2013 to 2014 and the Sierra Club doesn't want to see it rise further.

He said he and other Sierra representatives have met and talked with county officials about the Springdale plant as well as numerous other coal-fired plants in the region.

“We told them it is really important to hold this plant to its allowable limit,” Schuster said.

Attempts to reach a company spokesman for comment were unsuccessful Thursday night.

Jameka Hodnett, a Sierra Club community organizer, said, “Allegheny County currently exceeds federal standards for clean air — and this plant is a major reason why.”

The pollutants released into the air become a major problem for people with respiratory ailments, according to panel member Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis of the advocacy group Women for a Healthy Environment. There are several sectors of the population who are vulnerable and need protected, particularly the elderly and children, she said.

She said one health study has found that the rate of asthma among children in Allegheny County has doubled in the last 10 years.

“While we know that these power plants may not be in violation, they are still emitting these pollutants,” Naccarati-Chapkis said.

Several residents joined the discussion throughout and asked questions afterward.

Karen Wratcher, who lives on Grant Street close to the power plant, said, “I can wash my car one day and the next day I can see soot all over it.”

She said there should be air monitors all around the area near the plant.

Stacy Stull of Roslyn Avenue who lives near the plant suggested having volunteers go door-to-door to conduct a survey aimed at determining how many people in the Springdale-Cheswick air suffer from respiratory ailments and cancer that might be attributable to the emissions.

Randy Francisco, who will lead the organizing effort locally for the Sierra Club, said several people approached him after the meeting about becoming volunteers.

“What we came here for tonight is to look for volunteers to help us in the community because we are going to need it for this permit fight,” he said.

Schuster said there will be more meetings to marshal community support for tightening the plant's permit. He said the county should have a draft of it ready for review in August or September.

He believes the Sierra Club has a good case for the county to increase restrictions.

“The county is in violation, so there's no reason why they shouldn't be lowering (NRG's) emissions here rather than them buying credits from somewhere else,” Schuster said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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